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Helping Patients with Memory Loss

Kathy Rogers, owner of Baltimore Photo Solutions, creates Memory Care books that contain photographs and captions that may retrieve some lost memories for dementia patients, that capture fleeting memories for their loved ones, and that introduce caretakers to people who had rich, interesting lives before they became patients. - Cathi Nelson


Helping Patients with Memory Loss

Kathy Rogers

I make Memory Care books more for the families of dementia patients. The patients themselves may not have the cognitive capabilities or the eyesight to enjoy the books. We prefer to get the book done while the patients can understand and appreciate it, but that doesn’t always happen, and even when it does, it doesn’t last long.

My clients are usually the adult children of dementia patients who want help in capturing fleeting memories. A Memory Care book isn’t a “This Is Your Life.” It’s a selection of happy moments.

Memory Care books help with transitions. When it’s time to enter a care facility or when a patient transfers to a stepped-up level of care in a continuing care or retirement community, the book can be something new to focus on that helps soothe and redirect him or her.

The purpose of the book is to focus on the good times. We begin by choosing the right photos. We want photos of the person smiling, because happy faces evoke happy memories. We focus on the positive, not on something that may make the patient sad. For instance, I was doing a gardening page for a friend’s mother who is a master gardener. It’s her passion. I focused on her gardening work at her retirement community. Had I included photos of the gardens of her home, it may have made her sad that she no longer lived there.

It helps people to start choosing photos when I tell them I want photos of important and happy memories and ones that show the person in action. We just want a few memories. If it’s difficult to decide what photos to include, we can do multiple books. But for right now, for this book, we need to be selective.

After people see how easy the first book is and how well received, they usually want to do another book. Or a book for another loved one when the time comes. I edit and advise. Naturally, all of the photos are important to the families. I point out ones that tell a really good story. And ones that are not dark or blurry. No matter how special the moment of the photo is, it needs to be one that will be easy for the patient to see. That’s also why it’s best to have one or two pictures per page and to use a large font for the captions. In addition to memory issues, some older people may have trouble seeing. Eye fatigue is a real problem. So in addition to the extra-large text, the book has simple backgrounds.

One time I was working with a woman in her seventies who was doing a book for her brother. She appreciated my editing. She said, “I keep going into the memories, and I need somebody to pull me back and keep me focused on what this book is about.” I used to work in health education, and I bring those same skills and compassion to helping people stay focused on the task at hand and make confident decisions.

I’ll tell you about my own family. One of the first books I did was for my father-in-law, and I learned a lot from doing it. One thing that was totally unexpected is that the book helped visitors make conversation with him. Some family members didn’t know what to say when they visited. The photos in the book always got them talking.

My father-in-law had Lewy Body syndrome. You could tell there were things going on in his mind, but he was unable to speak. Photos and family stories had always been important to him. I did a book of my husband’s childhood. Once he had the book, he could smile, point to a picture, and my brother-in-law who lived right near the care facility would repeat the story to him. They could interact that way.

It was at that time that I realized I had too many photos on the page. I did another book with more recent pictures of the grand- children and some of things they liked to do. It’s nice to have a couple of books to choose from.

The books were helpful in another unexpected way also. The hospice volunteers loved having the books with the photos and captions. The volunteers who didn’t know him or had only been in a couple times could have a more meaningful visit. The book allowed them to know him as a person.

We found that also with my husband’s aunt, his father’s sister, when we were moving her into a memory care facility in Brook- lyn. By then, she was elderly and Alzheimer’s had really taken hold, so that sometimes she was belligerent and sometimes she was sweet. She had been a professional flutist with the Metropolitan Opera and toured the world with them in the 1960s, not something that a lot of women got to do. The staff was impressed. I could see, as we were getting her settled in, that they were more interested in her life and who she was than they were with her fixation on paper clips.

It’s amazing and heart-warming that even just a few photo- graphs can have such an effect on the lives of patients and on the lives of all those they touch.

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